During our long military action in Iraq, there were many local citizens who helped out Coalition forces. Some of these individuals and their families face significant threats of harm if they remain in the country.
Associate Ryan Gist has first-hand understanding of the situation, having served nine years in the Army, including time as a Ranger Forward Observer in Afghanistan and as a Company Commander in Iraq. He says some of those who assisted Coalition forces were doing unpopular tasks such working on new tax and business licensing initiatives for the Iraqi government. Others, particularly interpreters, accompanied troops on patrol raids and combat operations.
Helping these people to resettle is one of the objectives of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, which has chapters at 23 law schools in the U.S. and the Middle East. IRAP’s program pairs law schools students with pro bono attorneys from private firms. One of the chapters is at the Seattle University School of Law, and two DWT attorneys have recently worked with the students to help bring some individuals and families to safety. Gist just recently accepted a new referral from IRAP for an interpreter who worked with one of the units he was with in Afghanistan (though they did not overlap in time).
The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, passed in 2008, provided fast-track status for Iraqis who had worked for the U.S. government or military. But many Iraqis who qualified for a “special immigrant visa” (or SIV) found that U.S. authorities were moving very slowly in processing their applications.
One such Iraqi, an interpreter named Tariq Abu Khumra, who at one time lived on a secure U.S. military base, spent over two years waiting for his visa to be approved after the base closed down. Gist worked on his behalf last year as well, drafting letters to the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, and helping him prepare a petition for humanitarian parole that would have allowed him to temporarily reside in the U.S. while his SIV application was being evaluated. Fortunately Khumra’s visa was approved not long after, and he arrived in the U.S. last summer.
DWT partner Ross Boundy is also working with IRAP. He handled one case last year and recently accepted a new one. He says he especially enjoys the mentorship elements of the work. “I encourage the students to do the heavy lifting,” he says. “I have them conduct critical parts of the client interviews and evidence-gathering, under my supervision. I’ve taken the opportunity to be a broader mentor to the students, helping them understand the realities of the practice of law versus the theoretical experience of law school. These have been great, invigorating experiences.”